Bubba Wallace turned in a dramatic final lap of NASCAR Cup Series qualifying at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday to claim the pole position for Sunday’s AutoTrader EchoPark Automotive 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Wallace’s qualifying lap of 188.337 mph in the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota around the 1.5-mile Fort Worth high banks just edged the hometown favorite, Texas-native Chris Buescher’s No. 17 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing Ford by a slight .039-second. It’s Wallace’s first pole position of the season and only the second career pole for the 29-year old Mobile, Ala. native – who is one of 12 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff-eligible drivers in this opening race of the second three-race round of the elimination-style format.
Wallace’s fast lap stopped Joe Gibbs Racing driver Christopher Bell’s streak of pole positions at three. Bell – who is also championship eligible – swept the pole positions in the entire opening round of Playoffs and will start ninth on Sunday.
Buescher’s teammate and team co-owner, Brad Keselowski – also a Playoff contender – was third fastest, followed by rookie Joe Gibbs Racing driver Ty Gibbs and Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain – another Playoff driver.
Kaulig Racing’s A.J. Allmendinger, Richard Childress Racing’s Kyle Busch, Chastain’s Trackhouse teammate Daniel Suárez, Bell and JGR’s Denny Hamlin rounded out the top 10 in qualifying to set the 36-car field. Busch, Chastain, Bell and Hamlin are all Playoff contenders too.
In eight series starts at Texas, Wallace has only a single top-10 finish – eighth place coming in his debut on the track in 2018. His only other top 20 (14th) came in 2020 spring race.
“I held it wide open,’’ Wallace said with a smile, adding, “It’s all about the people at 23XI, the 23-team and the 45-car as well. We keep pushing each other to be better and better and it’s paying off. I’m proud of the effort, but it’s nice for a moment, tomorrow is the real test.’
“Was I expecting it? I don’t know. In qualifying I tend to try too hard and overthink things. I need to stop that and just go out and do. So that was a good surprise.”
Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron and regular season champion, JGR’s Martin Truex Jr. – who are tied atop the standings coming into Texas – qualified 18th and 16th, respectively. Kyle Larson, who is ranked third in the championship standings just missed advancing to the final qualifying session and will start 11th.
Other Playoff drivers, Wallace’s teammate Tyler Reddick and Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney will start 15th and 23rd, respectively.
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